SwimSwam welcomes reader submissions about all topics aquatic, and if it’s well-written and well-thought, we might just post it under our “Shouts from the Stands” series. We don’t necessarily endorse the content of the Shouts from the Stands posts, and the opinions remain those of their authors. If you have thoughts to share, please send [email protected]
This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Lauren Langford, the Aquatics Director for YMA of Alaska.
“How are they doing, Coach?”
It is the most frequent question we are asked as coaches, and the most difficult to answer, too.
Some people ask it as a courtesy, or as a way to strike up conversation, and they are looking for an answer no deeper than, “they are doing well.” In fact, no one ever wants to hear if your athletes are not doing well, or discuss what you plan to do about it, even though these are some of the most important conversations a coach can have with another human being.
Others ask it in pursuit of specific data because that is what speaks to them about the quality of an athlete’s performance. When it comes to reporting along those lines with swimming, however, I have found it to be pointless because telling the average human being that your 13-year-old male swimmer completed 100 yards of Freestyle in less than :50 seconds means absolutely nothing. They often follow this news with questions such as, “is that fast enough to go to the Olympics?” As a swimmer, you just want to smack your forehead with the palm of your hand and walk away.
Here is what I want to say whenever I am asked this question: I’ll know when they’re 30. I will know how well they have absorbed the lessons learned in competitive sports when they reach 30 years of age, and I’ll know how well I’ve done as their coach, too.
Let me explain.
My job as a youth coach is to build outstanding character atop the platform of competitive sports.
It is not to produce Olympians, or even state champions, although that is often a byproduct of cultivating the utmost level of character.
It is my job to teach them about setting goals and celebrating victories of all shapes and sizes, especially the little ones, because those keep you going on the way to the top.
It is also my job to teach them about failure; how it is a beginning, not an end; how it is only a bad thing if you don’t learn from it or resolve to use it as a springboard for your next devoted effort to become better.
It is my job to teach them about competition, how to survive and how to thrive, because everything in life from getting into college to applying for your first apartment to securing your dream career is a competition, whether you want it to be or not, and the more experience you have with performance under pressure, the more you will excel in those critical moments.
It is my job to let them know, however cliché it may be, that the sky is the limit in terms of what they can achieve, and that if they innovate, work hard, and believe in themselves, their wings are plenty big and strong enough to carry them up, up, and away.
Last, and most important, it is my job to envelope them with acceptance and fill them with light, to build for them an environment in which it is safe to take risks, and to let them know that regardless of the outcome, we will meet them wherever they are on any given day with open arms offering nothing but love.
So, if you ever ask a coach this innocuous question and they get a faraway look on their face, they may be thinking of every athlete they’ve ever worked with, seeing them as they were when they were little kids and marveling at the adults they became as they wandered on down the road.
A little voice may be saying to that coach in the sanctity of their own mind, “I’ll know when they’re 30.”
About Lauren Langford
Lauren Langford is the Aquatics Director for YMCA of Alaska at the facility where she learned to swim, she is the head coach of swimming and diving at West Anchorage High School where she competed all four years of her high school career, and she is head coach of swimming at Anchorage YMCA Swim Team, a program that has stolen her heart and inspired her to introduce young people to the best version of themselves through the challenges and triumphs of competitive swimming.